Rocket Science: Adette C. Contreras
On breakfast foods, creative icons, business therapy, and Hogwarts houses.
Adette C. Contreras is the founder of In Wild Pursuit, a business strategy & design studio, and co-founder of Tinsel, an experiential design firm. She’s also a designer, speaker, consultant, maker of (many) ceramic bowls, Brooklyn resident, and world traveler.
Favorite breakfast food.
I grew up in the Philippines, so my favorite breakfast food is tapsilog. It’s garlic fried rice, tapa (which is cured meat) and eggs.
There are a few versions – it’s a portmanteau! There’s tapsilog and tocilog and other types of -silog. “Silog” is a combination of “sinangag,” which is garlic fried rice, and “itlog,” which is our word for egg. Whatever the meat is, they just swap out that syllable for the protein. Sometimes it’s salted fish or beef or pork, of course. It’s really easy to make and so delicious.
What was your biggest learning curve as a founder?
I would say finance. I grew up as a math and science nerd, and got used to the idea that when there’s an equation put in front of you, there’s a right answer and then everything else is wrong.
Finance, though, is essentially a collection of best guesses. You’re making projections, and obviously the goal is to get it as accurate as possible. If you’re in the ballpark, that might be all you need in order to make projections.
It was really hard for me to take a look at numbers and see them not as exact numbers but the “idea” of numbers. The first three years, you have to guess because you don’t have any data. After that, you start to make correlations, and you get more and more accurate.
What’s the best hotel or Airbnb you’ve stayed in recently?
My husband and I just got back from our honeymoon in the Canary Islands. There is this Airbnb on the island of Tenerife where my CFO lives. So the joke was, “Great, I’m going on my honeymoon, and I’ll be able to take a look at long-term financial projections with Anjali.” But she had told us about the island because she and her husband work remotely all over the world. She’s my hero.
We stayed in a tiny little town, Garachico, at a place called Casa Roja. It’s gorgeous. There’s an old Spanish-style courtyard and beautiful wood everywhere. It was out of a dream. The town was magical. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Around every corner, I’m like, “Look, there she goes …”
Prior to that, we stayed at a riad in Tangier named La Tangerina. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed. Tangier is just so vibrant. It feels like what I imagine 1920s Paris would be, because everyone you run into is so cosmopolitan. After that place I thought, “Okay, well, I’m never going to a hotel chain again.”
Whose creative work do you really admire?
I have been in love with this woman named Florence Broadhurst for a little while. She was a legendary wallpaper designer from Australia. One of the patterns on my tattoo is based off her designs. Even today, they’re used by huge fashion houses because her designs are so timeless.
But it’s the theater in her that’s fascinating. She moved around all over the world, and every place that she moved she took on a new personality. A new accent, a new name, a new history every time.
She sang, she joined the circus, she was a milliner in Paris, she established a finishing school in Shanghai. She painted landscapes, taught sculpture and printmaking, some type of Maharaja gifted her a tiger … and then she built this wallpaper empire. But then, her life ends in murder in the late ‘70s. An unsolved murder committed in her studio. Unbelievable.
Her life was her art. I think she was probably a little bit crazy, but then, seeing what she built as a businesswoman and competing on a global scale just blows my mind.
What’s a common trap that entrepreneurs fall into when they’re developing their brand?
I think it’s when entrepreneurs fail to extricate themselves from the brand. It’s hard … for a while their company is them, and they are their company. If the identity doesn’t stay separate, it’s so unhealthy. That’s how you crash and burn. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve experienced it. You don’t feel it happening either, that’s why it’s so dangerous.
Because it’s passion, right? You’re following your dreams, shaping this thing. More and more it takes on your likeness. But then you’re defining yourself by what you do, which can be really bad in the long run. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs to help mitigate that risk. We call it Business Therapy.
An interesting analogy for entrepreneurs is a clothing designer or fashion house. For a while you are the designer and the seamstress and the tailor and the salesperson. But at the end of the day, you have to realize that your customers are buying your dresses, they’re not employing you as their personal seamstress or tailor. They’re buying your vision of a product or service.
You’ve just been greenlit for season one of your podcast. What’s it about?
It would be about entrepreneurs, identity, and the journey of building an entity that can stand on its own two feet and function even without the entrepreneur.
My network right now is full of entrepreneurs … people who are on this crazy journey of trying to essentially split themselves, right? So, it’s like a Horcrux. That’s what it is. “I will make another Horcrux of myself and it’ll live forever. Here’s another little piece of my soul that lives out in the world.”
Seeing how that works and the purpose behind why people do this really difficult thing is really fascinating to me.
Sort yourself: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff.
I’ve taken many quizzes, so I’m highly qualified to answer this. Ravenclaw all the way. They’re the nerds, they love studying, and they’re all about knowledge. Whether or not they do anything with that knowledge is something else entirely.
We talk about this all the time with friends. We asked one of my business partners, and she’s like, “I’m House Gryffindor.” We had her pegged for Slytherin because she’s very clever and is the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my life. I asked, “Why do you think you’re a Gryffindor?” and she said, “Because they’re the star of the book, and I love winning.” I told her, “That is the most Slytherin answer I’ve ever heard.”
What’s your favorite outdoor space?
My favorite outdoor space in the world would have to be the Pacific Ocean. That covers a lot of territory, so I’m trying to pick where. Whenever I see any part of it, it makes me feel like I’m back home. It’s funny, while we were in Hawaii I looked out and thought, “There you are, baby girl. It’s been too long.”
There’s just something about it that makes me feel alive. At some point I’ll have to pinpoint exactly where, but maybe that’s the answer for now. The Pacific Ocean.